Dear Church Family,
Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 34-35. Here is a brief review.
In our study of the covenant of grace, in our last lesson, we emphasized the continuity between the old and new covenants. These questions and answers of the WLC deal with the discontinuity between the old and new covenants. Specifically, we learn of how the covenant of grace was administered under the old covenant (WLC 34) and under the new covenant (WLC 35). Again, if you like, you may review a graphic which provides an overview of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, along with Scripture references that speak to the various manifestations of the covenant of grace throughout the Bible: https://hillcountrypca.org/westminster-larger-catechism-q-29-30/.
WLC 34 How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament, by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the pass-over, and other types and ordinances, which did fore-signify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.
There at least six broad categories of ways in which the covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament. And, all of these means fore-signify (or point to) Christ.
One clear example of promise in the old covenant which points to Christ is the Lord’s promise to give land to Abraham and His descendants forever (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-15). While some believe that this promise of land is fulfilled by the Jewish people inhabiting and living in the state of Israel, the New Testament tells us something very different. In the new covenant, the Lord’s promise to give land to Abraham and his descendants is shown to be pointing to Christ and the promise for all those who trust in Him to dwell in a city built by God in a heavenly country – the new heavens and the new earth (Hebrews 11:8-10; 13-16).
There are many prophecies of the Old Testament which point to, and are fulfilled in, the New Testament and coming of Jesus Christ. For example, Moses foretold that the Lord would raise up a prophet through whom God will deliver His word (Deuteronomy 18:15-18); the Apostle Peter declares in the New Testament that this prophecy of Moses, along with all the other prophets of the Old Testament, point to Jesus Christ (Acts 3:22-26). Indeed, Peter’s entire sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) is replete with references and allusions to how Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. These are just some examples of the many prophecies which point to Christ.
Hebrews 8:1-7 tells of how the priests of the old covenant served in the earthly tabernacle which was a copy and a shadow of the heavenly one. Jesus, our perfect high priest, ministers in the true tabernacle in heaven; He has obtained a more excellent ministry and a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. Thus, the entire sacrificial system of the old covenant has been abrogated at the coming of Christ because the true has replaced the shadow.
The physical sign of circumcision was always intended to point to the necessary spiritual reality of the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 2:29). Just so, the outward sign of baptism in the new covenant points to the inward reality of the spiritual circumcision of the heart (Colossians 2:9-12). In these verses from Colossians, the Scriptures draw a clear connection between the physical sign of circumcision in the old covenant and the physical sign of baptism in the new covenant: both point to, and signify, the spiritual reality of the circumcision of the heart by Christ through faith in God who raises the dead.
With a clear reference to the sacrificial lamb of the Passover meal, John the Baptist declared that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And so, the Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as “our Passover” who has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7).
(6) Types and Ordinances
Type and antitype are literary terms that describe an inherent and clearly developed connection between a person or thing and something which came before it. In the Scriptures, the types of the Old Testament point to their antitypes in the New Testament. This is not something which is forced upon Scripture, but clearly arises out of the text. For example, the Apostle Paul draws a clear line of connection between Adam in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament: Adam is “a type” [“tupos”] of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:14).
Likewise, in his first epistle, Peter actually uses the Greek word (“antitupos”) which is the root of our English word and concept. Having described how Noah and his family were brought safely through the waters of the flood in the ark, Peter writes, “Corresponding to that [“antitupos” – antitypically speaking] baptism now saves you– not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience– through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Peter 3:21-22). Thus, the story of Noah and his family being saved through the flood in the Old Testament is a type which points to baptism, it’s antitype in the New Testament.
N.B. Full Remission of Sin and Eternal Life
Sometimes, Christians are prone to think of the people of God in the Old Testament as not receiving forgiveness of sins or eternal salvation until the coming of Christ; however, this is not so. The believers of the old covenant were saved by faith in the same way as believers in the new covenant. So, this question and answer concludes by explaining how all of these administrations of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament “were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.”
By way of example, in the New Testament, Abraham is called a believer (Galatians 3:9), a man of faith and father of all new covenant believers (Romans 4:16). Indeed, those who were born again and trusted in the promises of God in the old covenant drank from Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 10:4); for it is God, alone, who circumcises hearts (Deuteronomy 30:6). This is why, after Jesus explained to Nicodemus what it means to be born again, or born of water and the Spirit (John 3:1-8), He responded to Nicodemus’ lack of understanding in this way: “Are you a teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” (John 3:9-10)
WLC 35 How is the covenant of grace administered under the New Testament?
A. Under the New Testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was and still is to be administered in the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fulness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.
At Christ’s coming and the inauguration of the new covenant, the covenant of grace is administered in a simpler manner and in fewer elements. Yet, since Christ is the substance of those administrations of the old covenant (Colossians 2:17), grace and salvation are held forth in these administrations with more fulness, evidence, and efficacy to all peoples.
There are basically two means of administering (or dispensing) the grace and salvation of the covenant of grace in the new covenant.
(1) The Preaching of the Word
In order to encourage Timothy in his ministry and pastoral work, the Apostle Paul emphasized the necessity of the Scriptures which are “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (1 Timothy 3:16-17). Thus, the preaching of the Word is an essential administration of the covenant of grace because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). We receive the Spirit by hearing with faith (Galatians 3:2) and the Lord continues to provide us the Spirit and work miracles among us through hearing with faith (Galatians 3:5).
(2) The Sacraments
The two sacraments of the new covenant are baptism and the Lord’s supper. The Lord Jesus instituted the sacrament of baptism as a means of administering the covenant of grace in what we have come to call the Great Commission. Christ’s church is to makes disciples of all the nations by baptizing them in the name of the Trinity and teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded us (Matthew 28:18-20).
And at the last supper, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s supper as a means of administering the covenant of grace by making clear reference to it: “…He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20).
These most recent questions and answers of the WLC help us to see the continuity between the old and new covenants: they are one and the same covenant of grace. These questions and answers also help us to see the discontinuity between the old and new covenants: they are administered in different ways.
For me, personally, we should take special note of two main take-aways – or points of application – from these questions and answers. First, unlike the doctrine of some dispensationalists wherein it is held that there are two covenant of grace – or two ways of salvation (one for Israel and one for the church) – God’s Word clearly teaches that the justification of believers in the old covenant was, in all respects, the same as the justification of believers in the new covenant. Israel of the old covenant has grown up, and into, the church of the new covenant.
Second, there are those, down through the ages and in the contemporary church, who seek to develop new and innovative ways of administering the covenant of grace. The simplicity of preaching and the sacraments is replaced with what is believed to be more engaging, entertaining, and therefore more effective, means of communication the grace of God. Yet, if indeed the grace and salvation of the covenant of grace are held forth in more fulness, evidence, and efficacy in the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments, we would do well to not think ourselves wiser than God.
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch